Bomben solidifies Ticats offensive line


The Hamilton Tiger-Cats came out of the 2015 CFL draft with what Kent Austin intimates is a real rarity.

An immediate starter.

OK, technically, the Ticats didn’t actually get Burlington native Ryan Bomben in the draft, but he was certainly of the draft. Just beforehand, Hamilton traded two picks to the Montreal Alouettes for the local kid who will start at right guard and can give the Cats some extra wiggle room in the American-Canadian roster ratio.

Austin replayed his thinking for assembled media ears Tuesday, explaining that the club had opted for a player who can play centre, guard and, most importantly, some tackle if really needed, over draft picks who are essentially the great unknown.

“If you look at first-round picks the last five or six years it’s really revealing on who’s starting … and even playing,” Austin said. “He’s a proven player, very versatile, very athletic. He can play three spots, so it allows us to change our ratio up front, which allows us to get another skilled player on the field.”

That player, Austin implied, could be a second punt-returner, and since the runback has almost become part of the expected scoring output of any Ticat game, being able to back up or team with Speedy Banks is important potential.

But it’s not just, or mostly, about ratio. Bomben can play. After a rookie year learning from the vets in front of him, he started the last two years at right guard on an Als’ line that doesn’t take roster alterations lightly.

Since returning to Montreal two decades ago the Als have, remarkably, never really blown up their line and started again. They always add only a piece here and there and that sustained stability (plus Anthony Calvillo) is why they made the playoffs every year.

“They didn’t make many changes,” Bomben agrees. “It was more so guys retiring or leaving for other opportunity, and a guy who was already there would step in. But the fact that I was playing behind these guys and not expected to start right away was pretty beneficial. I learned a lot from those guys.”

The addition of Bomben rounds out a veteran offensive line and provides an overall sense of continuity, even though both guards didn’t play here last year. (Outside of some Grey Cup special teams work from Peter Dyakowski who returned from season-long injury rehab for the game.)

Centre Mike Filer goes into his second year as starter, there are four tackles in town — including likely starters Brian Simmons and Joel Figueroa — who have started. Veteran Tim O’Neill’s value is actually enhanced when he can rotate through rather than start. And there are young Canadian guards who’ll get more training in the less-stressful background with Bomben starting, just as he got in Montreal.

Quarterback Zach Collaros is encouraged by what should be, barring serial injuries, stability up front.

“It’s a big difference,” he says. “The first couple of weeks last year we had a bunch of different lineups there, whether it was injuries or just trying to find the right fit. They seem to be coming together really well. The pocket’s been very firm for me so far.”

Bomben returns to play in the east end where his grandparents, Leo and Palma — who still live in Hamilton — would accompany him, his father and uncles to Ticat games until he was in his teens and less interested in going to Ivor Wynne.

He prefers to play guard and says that his focus in training camp is all on that position but understands that the team could use him as a temporary fill at tackle.

Bomben was taken in the same 2010 draft as current Ticats Brian Bulcke, Spencer Watt and Anthony Woodson, who were all selected before he went 31{+s}t overall.

Five years later, he netted the Als two draft choices in return, both higher slots than his fourth-round selection.

“I had no idea (the trade) was coming,” he said Tuesday. “I was completely caught off guard. Got a call from (Als’ GM) Jim Popp about an hour before the draft.

“As soon as I got off phone with him, my phone was blowing up. Twitter was blowing up.”

And the Ticats line was doing the opposite.